19 Feb 2024

Marea del Portillo, here I come... again!


Yes, I will soon be returning to Marea del Portillo, Cuba, again. I was there when the resort finally reopened on Dec. 6, after too many years, and I want to return before flights to/from Manzanillo end for the 2023-24 season.

I thought I'd timed my visit to occur while this tourism season was still going strong. When I planned my trip, flights were available to the middle of April 2024. However, Sunwing abruptly decided to truncate the season and end flights to/from Manzanillo de Cuba in mid March instead. Dec. 6 to March 20 is a VERY short season!

Without the Sunwing flights from Toronto and Montreal, the entire Manzanillo airport will close. The next nearest Cuban airport is in Holguin, which is about 4 hours away from the Marea/Pilón area. It is a bit of a drive but there are a lot of interesting things to see along the way! Sometimes, when I've flown via Holguin, I've stopped in Manzanillo or Bayamo and, on occasion, stayed overnight in Holguin. All three of those cities are interesting to visit.

After Sunwing pulled the plug on the more convenient Manzanillo flights, the resort management team began exploring other transportation options. They had hoped to be able to provide a package that would include the airport transfer without adding to the cost. That, unfortunately, has not yet proven possible. At this point, they're still awaiting answers following a recent meeting in Bayamo with Sunwing representatives.

Sunwing may not seem to care about this resort and the communities it serves – I mean both the local community and the community of tourists – but the resort managers definitely DO care. Abel Carcur, Yancel Pérez and Ñusta Arévalo want to keep this resort open beyond March 20, and they are trying very hard to find a viable solution. Both Yancel and Ñusta live in the area and have worked at the Marea del Portillo for quite some time. Abel is new to the resort but not new to the tourism business, nor to Cuba, although he's actually from Spain.

As well as working in the tourism industry in different capacities around the world, Abel Carcur also had a restaurant in his hometown of Lugo, Spain.

Last year, some of you may have heard that a Spanish company was taking over the resort. I think that rumor may have arisen because Abel came from Spain to tour the facility; it was really just one Spanish guy who was hired by Blue Diamond to be the general manager. Rumors also circulated that the resort was being sold. Well, it was sort of a shell game because Sunwing owns Blue Diamond. They are rebranding it, not selling it... at least, not yet.

Abel has apparently been given a year to turn things around financially but I have not been able to find out if that "year" begins next season (Winter 2024-25) or if has already started. If the clock is now ticking for Abel, then Sunwing should not have cut him off at the knees by stopping flights to Manzanillo earlier than originally scheduled.

When I chatted with Abel in December, he explained that many changes were pending, including the creation of two separate resorts on the same property. Instead of the Marea del Portillo hotel and the Farallón del Caribe hotel being under one big umbrella (Club Amigo Marea del Portillo), each of the hotels would be marketed separately and would cater to different clienteles. Then, if the Marea hotel's financial picture did not improve, it would be sold and Sunwing would operate only the Farallón.

However, I found it quite interesting to learn that Sunwing was not footing the bill for all the renovation work that has been and is being done at the facility. Abel said that, in his experience, the amount of money being pumped into the resort is unprecedented. Since the Cubanacan group actually owns the place (Sunwing is essentially a property manager), it would seem that they want to keep this entire resort alive – at least two of three hotels, that is. I have no idea about the future of the third hotel, Punta Piedra, which is located a few kms to the west, but I hope it doesn't fall into disrepair.

So, if Sunwing sells off the Marea hotel, would Cubanacan step in and operate it? Perhaps. Could another international airline be found to fly into Manzanillo. Maybe. At this point, I'm just speculating! Let's all sing together: "Quizás, quizás, quizás...." 

Blue Diamond has dual-personality, two-hotel resorts under the "Resonance" banner, which is the current plan for Marea del Portillo/Farallón del Caribe.

Meanwhile, let's talk about what could happen after March 20. The resort could simply close. Or, it could be opened on weekends only for day use (no overnight accommodation). OR, in a scenario I want to be optimistic about, it could stay open and provide transportation from/to Holguin for clients with air/hotel vacation packages (Sunwing or another company). In this case, people could also book accommodation autonomously – no matter where they were traveling from or what airline they might be using. If a group arrived together, a Manzanillo-based company called Proyecto Guacanayabo could adeptly supply shuttle service.

Although other individuals can provide transportation, Proyecto Guacanayabo seems to be the best option for groups because they have access to numerous vans and other larger vehicles. And, for those who like the classics, they have a big yellow truck with bus-style seats at their disposal. It can comfortably carry 10-12 people and, since it has a large roof rack, luggage can go on top instead of being crammed inside, which must be done with many vans.

Also, because their business includes guided tours to other parts of Cuba and event organization, they would have the chops to put together a nice mini-tour from Holguin to Marea del Portillo. Since Manzanillo is about halfway, it would be a great place to stop for a break that could include a meal and music, as well as beverages and baños, and, perhaps, a quick drive along the city's sculpture-studded malecón.

I realize that a 226-km drive from plane to bed is not ideal or, for those with certain health issues, even possible. Nonetheless, I would encourage you to keep an open mind about this idea and not negate it out of hand. Certainly, having an unexpected 4-hour bus ride is not nice but this would be organized and announced in advance. IF this mini-tour option can be worked out, I think it would be fun!

Let's stay positive and keep supporting Marea del Portillo as much as we can! On Feb. 28, I will again be heading for my favorite little resort, my second home and my Cuban cottage, as some folks call it. I will try to post a trip report by Easter... if I make it home and have time by then! While I'm there, I'll do my best to provide what updates I can about the resort and its future. 

Keep smiling,

This awesome vintage vehicle, equipped with modern, padded bus seats, can carry 12 people.